Wooga: HTML5 Source Code Offers Challenges In Mobile Gaming
June 23, 2012

HTML5 Source Code Offers Challenges In Mobile Gaming

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com

Mobile game developer Wooga, which for the better part of the past year has been developing a complete mobile game based on HTML5 Web technologies, published the game´s source code on GitHub under an open source software license, adding that while the technology has great potential for gaming, it℠s not ready for primetime.

The game -- Magic Land Island -- was released as an open source project called Pocket Island. Wooga began developing the game in 2011, when HTML5 was gaining popularity; in fact, the project´s goal was to highlight the capabilities of the standard as an alternative to Flash-based gaming. Yet Wooga said they are giving up on it, at least for now, until HTML5 has more practicality.

The decision to dump HTML5 could also undermine the mobile ambitions of social network Facebook and software developer Mozilla, as well as others.

In releasing their Pocket Island game as an open source project, Wooga declared “mission accomplished.” That mission, however, hadn´t exactly been to devote significant resources to a project that would be given away. But by taking on an effort to create one of the world´s most advanced HTML5 mobile games, the company felt they had reached their goal.

Along with releasing the source code, Wooga published a blog entry describing some of the lessons that developers learned from the experience. There is potential there, but it is not quite yet ready, the German game maker noted. It is hoping that, by releasing the source code, it will contribute to the Web development community´s body of knowledge.

“The reason we´re making Pocket Island open source is so that talented developers all around the world can learn from the team´s work here at Wooga, before breaking and improving on it,” the company´s blog stated. “The promise of HTML5 is still an exciting one and while the time for mass market implementation may not be in 2012, we´re confident its time will come.”

“Given the excitement around the technology, the buzz in the media, the buzz among engineers you´d bump into at conferences, it would have been absurd not to at least test the technology. So, we did,” said Philipp Moeser, Wooga´s co-founder and CTO.

At first the project was strictly experimental. But as the Wooga team carefully waded into uncharted waters, it quickly became obvious that there was great potential in HTML5. Progress was quickly made and the game quickly took shape.

“We were surprised with just what could be done with the technology after such a short time working on the project,” said Project Manager Florian Steinhoff. “We had a level of correspondence with Facebook that kept our goals in check, so that was helpful, but it was essentially an original team of three that launched the project and it was developing faster than we expected.”

Once the development team realized the scope of HTML5, they widened the parameters of the experiment. “When the project started to take shape we added team members fairly consistently over time until we ended up with a team of around 10 people. With every added team member the game took big strides,” Florian added.

As work increased and after many months in development, Magic Land Island was finally launched on October 10, 2011 and spent about 6 months on the market on Facebook℠s mobile platform.

Facebook launched its HTML5 app in October 2011, and while there have been games using some of the technology that HTML5 offers, the games themselves weren´t up to the standards of native apps. Long load times, lack of sound, and connectivity issues were big problems. When Magic Land Island launched on Facebook´s mobile platform, users simply were not used to there being no app icon to quickly return them to the game. That proved to be a strong issue on the limited growth of the game.

Players launching the game were counted as “installs." Game installs were initially very low as users struggled to find the game page. Wooga fixed this issue with a cross-link added to the HTML5 version. While it helped boost game installs, the team was still not seeing effective results. Retention rates were also extremely low with around 5 percent of users returning to play the next day. In April, the cross-link was removed and during the lifetime of the game, Wooga saw only 1.3 million installs.

Wooga was still pleased with the results of their work, noting that coding HTML5 was extremely hard work. What is a simple task on native apps can be much more complex and time consuming with HTML5.

So why use it?

“The mobile app market is a billion dollar business that HTML5 could significantly disrupt. It has the potential to be a complete game changer, but the technology is not there yet,” said Moeser.

For the past couple of years HTML5 has been gaining great potential as the new standard. Google aggressively hyped it in 2009 and 2010. And also in 2010, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared: “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too),” reports Thomas Claburn of InformationWeek.

Microsoft also bet on HTML5 for Windows 8 Metro app development. And Facebook, which profited immensely from Adobe Flash-based web games, has recently shifted gears toward HTML5 development to remain relevant with mobile users. Even Mozilla is looking to HTML5 as the platform of choice.

Moeser, however, sees HTML5 as the future“¦ and not the present.

“HTML5 is not a complete framework,” Carlos Icaza, a software developer and startup adviser, told Claburn. “It´s a cornucopia of different JavaScript components. Everybody has their own libraries and frameworks for doing things. Until it truly becomes standardized, HTML5 will still be fragmented and not up to par with native development.”

Currently, HTML5 suffers from inadequate offline functionality (an issue Google is still embattled with in its effort to bring offline editing to Google Docs). Long load times and audio issues are also a major setback in the technology.

While Wooga was able to overcome some technical hurdles, the work proved more difficult than worthwhile for gaming. However, with business applications in mind, particularly those just collecting and presenting data from a server, HTML5 is ready to excel.

Wooga concluded that the level of sophistication of native apps has simply not been achieved with HTML5 at this point. So the company is releasing the source code to give other developers the chance to learn from their experience and to perhaps improve on the technology. Wooga said that it hopes that the community will use the project´s work to continue to promote the HTML5 standard.

HTML5 is an open platform technology for the web that allows a game to be played on any mobile device through the web browser. Currently platforms like Apple´s iOS and Google Android require developers to create unique code for each platform so that the app can communicate with the platform, and vice versa. However, HTML5´s universal language means that developers only have to create one codebase for a game.